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Recognizing Bad Breath as a Symptom of Other Issues

August 6th is National Fresh Breath Day (they seem to have a day for everything!) and we thought we would take this time to explore the issue of bad breath and how it can signal the presence of other health issues. If you are a caregiver of someone in hospice in San Francisco and elsewhere, you may be concerned about your loved one’s bad breath, which can be a symptom of anything from certain cancers to mouth infections.

The fancy term for bad breath is halitosis and it affects one in four people. It’s actually the third most common reason that people seek out dental care, after tooth decay and gum disease, says Medical News Today. Usually, home remedies and lifestyle changes like better dental hygiene practices and ditching the cigarettes can help, but if those don’t work, it’s important to see a dentist to check for underlying causes. There could be a more serious condition causing the halitosis, and your dentist can refer you to a doctor to reveal the underlying cause of the odor.

Causes of Bad Breath

Bad breath originates in the mouth, so try drinking lots of water and brushing your teeth and tongue after a meal. There are many common and not-so-common causes of halitosis, such as:

  • Food. When food particles in your teeth break down, this can boost the presence of bacteria and bring on a foul odor, says the Mayo Clinic. Bad breath can be caused by eating certain foods like onion, garlic, and spices, which, after digestion, get into your bloodstream and get carried to your lungs.
  • Tobacco products. Not only does smoking causes an unpleasant odor, but smokers are also more likely to develop gum disease, which happens to be a top source of bad breath.
  • Poor dental hygiene. Failure to brush and floss daily means food particles are allowed to remain in your mouth, leading to the formation of plaque. This sticky substance irritates the gums and leads to periodontitis. Your tongue is another culprit, trapping odor-causing bacteria, as are dentures that are not cleaned properly.
  • Dry mouth. Because saliva cleanses your mouth and gets rid of particles that can smell bad, dry mouth can contribute to this condition because the amount of saliva in the mouth is severely decreased. Everyone gets this at some point in their lives, usually happening in the mornings. But if you have chronic dry mouth, this could signal a problem with the salivary glands as well as certain diseases.
  • Medications. Some medications cause dry mouth, which leads to bad breath, while others break down in the body after ingestion and release chemicals that hitch a ride on your breath.
  • Mouth infections. Bad breath can be spurred by surgical wounds created after having oral surgery (tooth extraction, etc.) or resulting from tooth decay, mouth sores, or gum disease.
  • Mouth, nose, and throat conditions. Small stones in the tonsils that are covered with bacteria can also produce a foul odor, as can infections or chronic inflammation in the nose, throat, or sinus cavities that result in postnasal drip.
  • Diseases and conditions. Certain cancers (lung cancer, etc.) and conditions like metabolic disorders produce chemicals that cause bad breath. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is also associated with bad breath, as is heart failure.
  • Diabetes. Poorly managed diabetes may make a person more susceptible to gum disease and dry mouth. When blood sugar levels become destabilized, your body isn’t able to fight bacteria that cause infections, which leads to bad breath. A fruity breath odor in diabetic patients can indicate a condition called ketoacidosis, which can result in a diabetic coma or death.

Palliative care and hospice care dentistry are oftentimes neglected, but proper mouth care is vital to the person’s self-esteem, comfort, communication abilities, socialization, and the enjoyment of food and drink. In addition to regular tooth brushing and flossing, fluoridated mouthwash can also help. It can be embarrassing for some people to know they have bad breath, especially when they can’t do much about it due to their vulnerable state in hospice. Many don’t realize they have it unless someone tells them, but there is a stigma associated with halitosis. Many people are unaware they have a problem, which in all honesty can’t compare to the greater health issues going on. But basic dental hygiene can solve a lot of the causes of bad breath for anyone of any age.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

Our hospice care team is mindful of the little things that can pose big side effects, which is why we are diligent about oral hygiene for our seniors and other terminally ill patients. To learn more about our hospice program and how we can help your family, contact us at 888-978-1306. We invite you to check out our hospice FAQs as well to learn more about our company and offerings.